Summary: Chapter 35

Ifemelu goes with Blaine to visit his sister, Shan. Shan is upset about her publisher’s image choice for her book cover and has been on the phone with the marketing director all morning.

After taking a call from a French admirer, she explains that she likes how European men look at her as a woman and not a Black woman. Ifemelu explains that she has had more interest from white men in America than Black American men. Shan waves off her objection, claiming that her being foreign must be the reason. The publisher calls to let Shan know that they have changed the cover image.

The chapter ends with a blog post in which Ifemelu explains how Barack Obama must remain the “magic Black man” in the eyes of white Americans. Ifemelu defines the “magic Black man” as a wise Black man who never expresses anger about racism and gently helps white people with their tragic prejudices.

Summary: Chapter 36

Ifemelu attends a birthday party for one of Blaine’s friends. Blaine’s ex, a white woman named Paula, is also at the party. Ifemelu can’t help but notice that Paula seems more comfortable with Blaine’s crowd than she is. Paula brings up a blog post of Ifemelu’s about the importance of white people listening to Black people when they talk about their experiences.

The conversation turns to Barack Obama, who has just announced his presidential bid. Ifemelu likes Hillary Clinton because she doesn't know anything about Obama, but she is soon drowned out by the discussion of how Obama makes people feel.

After the party, Ifemelu tries to explain to Blaine that his connection with Paula makes her jealous. She likens it to how the fried chicken he and Paula eat is battered, unlike the Nigerian fried chicken she knows. Blaine only notices the loaded invocation of fried chicken, but tells her there’s no reason to be jealous. Ifemelu knows Blaine won’t cheat, but she is jealous of a desire to be good that connects Blaine and Paula.

Summary: Chapter 37

Dike is now a popular teenager. When speaking to his friends, he uses African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). When Ifemelu asks him why, he changes the subject.

Ifemelu attends one of Shan’s parties. Shan complains that her editor undermined her memoir by doubting her experiences with racism. She laments that writing about race in America is impossible because white editors want “nuance,” which allows people to dismiss structural issues as individual quirks. When someone suggests Ifemelu blog about this literary problem, Shan claims that Ifemelu can write about race the way she does because she isn’t American and doesn’t feel the consequences of the topic. Ashamed, Ifemelu wishes Shan had told her that privately.

The chapter’s ending blog post discusses people who claim Obama is multiracial instead of Black. Ifemelu argues that in America your race is decided for you.

Summary: Chapter 38

Boubacar is a new professor from Senegal. Blaine does not like him, possibly because Ifemelu and Boubacar instantly bond over being African. Boubacar encourages Ifemelu to apply for a Princeton humanities fellowship.

Ifemelu gets a text from Blaine about Mr. White, a Black security guard at the library. Ifemelu is not fond of him because he makes sexual innuendos about her and Blaine. Blaine tells her a white librarian noticed Mr. White lend a friend his car keys and assumed he was dealing drugs. The librarian’s supervisor called the police.

Blaine decides to organize a protest against the university’s response. Although they never discuss her attending the protest, Blaine tells Ifemelu to text him when she gets to the library. Ifemelu does not go, and instead goes with Boubacar to a colleague’s going-away lunch. Blaine texts to ask where she is, excited that even Shan came. Ifemelu claims she took a nap and overslept. Ecstatic over the turnout of his protest, Blaine tells her that they gave Mr. White his dignity back.

Ifemelu admits her lie. Blaine is horrified and hurt. Blaine tells her that it’s not enough for her to write her blog; she must live it. Ifemelu realizes Blaine believes she would care more if she were a Black American. Blaine gives her the cold shoulder for days, and Ifemelu goes to visit Aunty Uju.

The chapter ends with a blog post talking about how poor whites still have privilege over poor non-whites.

Analysis: Chapters 35–38

Ifemelu is jealous of Blaine’s connection with Paula because Blaine and Paula are connected by a sense of justice. Ifemelu’s fried chicken metaphor further highlights the connection she cannot experience, both because of the literal difference between American and Nigerian fried chicken and because Ifemelu doesn’t have the cultural background to realize she was using a loaded example. Ifemelu tries to use food as a metaphor to demonstrate that Blaine and Paula grew up eating the same kind of food, that is, absorbing the same cultural cues, and she did not. She does not realize that Black people eating fried chicken is a stereotype in America, which Blaine points out but does not explain. He expects Ifemelu to already understand the history of fried chicken. Implicitly, Paula would never use fried chicken as a metaphor because, as a white American who works towards racial justice, she avoids hurting Black friends with casual racism. While Blaine may not have understood it, the interaction unintentionally proves Ifemelu’s point that she will never be able to participate as fully in Blaine’s justice as someone like Paula.

Throughout these chapters, Shan demonstrates her jealousy of Ifemelu by using Ifemelu’s foreignness as a weapon against her, devaluing her experience. Shan repeatedly mentions that Ifemelu is not American as a way to undermine Ifemelu. For example, when Ifemelu contradicts Shan’s theory that American white men don’t see Black women as women, Shan shuts down the conversation by saying American men just exoticize Ifemelu because she’s foreign. Shan’s reading contradicts the way Curt tells Ifemelu she’s the first Black woman he’s been with, which suggests he sees her as Black. This disparity could have led to a conversation, but Shan acts as if Ifemelu’s foreignness means her experiences are irrelevant to the conversation. Similarly, when a party guest takes the focus off of Shan by mentioning Ifemelu’s blog, Shan counters that Ifemelu’s blog is only successful because she’s foreign. Ifemelu herself acknowledges her privilege as a Black non-American, but the point of Shan’s comment here was not to illuminate Ifemelu’s privilege, but to downplay her success by suggesting that it was false or easy. These cutting comments show that Shan feels threatened by Ifemelu’s success.

Despite Shan’s self-serving personality, her observation about white editors using “nuance” as an excuse to hide the structural nature of racism rings true, and echoes the value the novel places on unfiltered truths. Shan’s book is a memoir, and therefore the events and racism depicted are real. The editor’s opinion that Shan’s actual experiences lack “nuance” means that he would prefer Shan to obfuscate her experiences, coding them in language that white readers can ignore or dismiss. Throughout the novel, trying to gloss over or dismiss difficult truths inevitably leads to harm, such as when Ifemelu’s family ignores her father’s depression. The harm caused by unacknowledged truths extends to other characters’ experiences with racism, as when Dike’s school insists that they do not see race even as they stereotype Dike. Taken as a whole, we can read American racism as portrayed in this novel as an unacknowledged truth that white America papers over and dismisses. Shan’s quip about nuance perfectly encapsulates the issue.

Blaine’s anger at Ifemelu in Chapter 38 stems from his unwillingness to accept her as she is. He claims that her inaction invalidates her blogging because he views her blog as a means to effect change. By not protesting, Ifemelu is not working toward change. However, Ifemelu’s blogging stems from a desire to explore and share her personal experiences. While Ifemelu has always been honest about the purpose of her blog, Blaine has dismissed her stated purpose as “laziness,” and his surprise here shows that he thought he could change the blog’s direction. However, Ifemelu cannot write the blog Blaine wants because her perspective on race inherently differ from his because she is a Black non-American. In addition, Ifemelu doesn’t feel a kinship with Mr. White because she is not a  Black American. While she can acknowledge the injustice of the situation, it does not feel personal or immediate to her. Ifemelu’s absence at the protest, therefore, only surprises Blaine because he ignores who she truly is.